WASHINGTON – Rep. William Jefferson and Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar agree on two important points: Abubakar never accepted and never agreed to accept any money from the congressman.
Jefferson, D-La., is at the heart of a bribery investigation in which the chief executive of a Louisville, Ky., telecommunications company says he paid more than $400,000 in bribes to Jefferson. The money was allegedly for help securing business deals for the company in Nigeria and other African countries.
The assertions about money follow the government's disclosure that Jefferson told an FBI informant the congressman took the "art," which authorities believe was code for $100,000 in $100 bills, to Abubakar's Potomac, Md., home on July 31, 2005.
A subsequent search of Jefferson's home turned up $90,000 of the $100,000 which the informant had provided.
"It's helpful" to the defense of Abubakar and Jefferson but hardly the final word on the issue that both men agree no money passed between them and that they had no agreement to pass any money, said former federal prosecutor Scott Fredericksen.
Prosecutors could say this was a plan in Jefferson's mind and that the government got there before it could be carried out, said Fredericksen.
Abubakar's statement may give Jefferson "a little bit of a boost" if it gets to the point where the congressman has to call the Nigerian official into court to testify that there was no agreement, said former federal prosecutor Greg Wallance.
Abubakar, a candidate in his country's presidential election, said through his lawyers Thursday that Jefferson never "suggested — in any way — providing any personal economic benefits."
The congressman "agrees with that," said Jefferson spokeswoman Judy Smith. She said the Justice Department was creating false impressions with selective disclosure of information.
While the two men had contact with each other, Abubakar said he extended "the usual diplomatic courtesies" to Jefferson that the Nigerian vice president would to any American official.
The comments from Abubakar came in response to questions from The New York Times.